Hymn of the Week: August 1
by Mary Chapman, Director of Music
The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, University City
H339: Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness (Schmücke dich)
Words: Johann Franck (1618-1677); tr. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), alt.
Music: Schmücke dich, melody Johann Crüger (1598-1662); harm. The English Hymnal, 1906
You may be likely familiar with this hymntune, Schmücke dich, one of many traditional hymns fondly referred to as an “old warhorse.” Often sung, and so familiar – but oh, what a wonderful warhorse it is!
Written as a communion hymn, it compares the closeness of Christ and the one partaking of Communion to that of the intimacy of a bride and bridegroom. No melancholy can be detected, but only deep, abiding joy and love at the prospect of becoming one with Christ.
Take a look at the translation in our 1982 Hymna). Even the opening line, “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,” brings to mind preparations for a party or feast. Also gladness, splendour, wondrous, enlighten, joy – all words which evoke deeper emotions.
Musically, the melody of this hymn doesn’t stray too high or low from its opening notes. In fact, it has a natural ebb and flow, as it briefly goes up a few notes, then comes right back down, during the text that is more personal.
But listen to what happens when the text changes, and is directed at Christ, our bridegroom. While only rising a few more notes, the hymn evolves into one which is more ecstatic, more glorifying.
The original poem was nine verses long, and written in the 17th century by Johann Franck. Unlike many lyricists of other hymns, he was not a minister, but a politician as well as prolific poet. The melody we know today was written by Franck’s good friend, Johann Crüger, and is included in his hymnal, Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien (Sacred church melodies) of 1649. The original text was translated by Catherine Winkworth (pub. 1858, rev. 1863), who pared it down to six verses. The version in our 1982 Hymnal is further pared to three verses.
The hymn can be heard here:
Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
leave the gloomy haunts of sadness;
come into the daylight's splendour,
there with joy thy praises render
unto him whose grace unbounded
hath this wondrous banquet founded:
high o'er all the heavens he reigneth,
yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.
Sun, who all my life dost brighten,
Light, who dost my soul enlighten,
Joy, the sweetest heart e'er knoweth,
Fount, whence all my being floweth,
at thy feet I cry, my Maker,
let me be a fit partaker
of this blessed food from heaven,
for our good, thy glory, given.
Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee,
let me gladly here obey thee;
never to my hurt invited,
be thy love with love requited:
from this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
through the gifts thou here dost give me,
as thy guest in heaven receive me.